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Carson v. Mooney

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 19, 2018

VINCENT MOONEY, et al. Respondents




         Petitioner David Carson (“Petitioner”), a Pennsylvania state prisoner, filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he asserted numerous constitutional claims. [ECF 1]. Thereafter, Petitioner obtained counsel, [ECF 2], who filed a memorandum of law in support of Petitioner's habeas petition and expanded on the alleged constitutional violations, arguing that (1) the trial court improperly denied Petitioner's motion to suppress evidence; (2) the evidence of record was insufficient to convict Petitioner; (3) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial court's improper reliance upon the “demeanor” of the prosecution witness; (4) Petitioner's right to a speedy trial was violated; and (5) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to assert that Petitioner's speedy trial right. [ECF 14].

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 72.1.IV(c), the petition for a writ of habeas corpus was randomly referred to United States Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice (the “Magistrate Judge”) for a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”). [ECF 5]. On April 25, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued an R&R, which recommended that the habeas petition be denied. [ECF 25]. Petitioner filed objections to the R&R, [ECF 28], and Respondents filed a reply to the objections. [ECF 30]. This matter is ripe for a de novo review and determination of the objections posed.

         After a thorough and independent de novo review of the state court record and court filings, for the reasons set forth, Petitioner's objections are overruled, the R&R is approved and adopted, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied; and this Court finds no probable cause to issue a certificate of appealability.


         On December 17, 2003, Petitioner was found guilty in a bench trial of murder in the second degree, robbery, criminal conspiracy, and possession of an instrument of a crime and was, subsequently, sentenced to life imprisonment. Commonwealth v. Carson, 2014 WL 10888317, at *1 (Pa. Super. Ct. Aug. 27, 2014). The facts underlying Petitioner's conviction, as summarized by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, were considered by the Magistrate Judge and are as follow:

[O]n July 15, 1998, [Petitioner] conspired with Julius Edwards to rob 18 [-]year-old [Romie] Webb. Several witnesses observed Edwards in possession of an AK47 assault rifle earlier that day. Edwards took the weapon to [Petitioner's] residence in the 900 block of Price Street in Philadelphia sometime in the afternoon. He and [Petitioner] then sat on the porch together for most of the afternoon and evening.
Webb lived on the 800 block of Price Street and was selling drugs on the same corner where [Petitioner] used to sell drugs before getting locked up. People in the area knew that Webb kept the crack cocaine he sold in a prescription pill bottle[, ] which he stashed under the bumper of a parked car. At approximately [10]:25 p.m., [Petitioner] and Edwards went . . . to where Webb was selling drugs. Edwards, wearing a striped shirt and armed with the AK47, ordered Webb to give him money. Webb responded that he had no money on him, and handed him the pill bottle containing the drugs. As Edwards was about to leave, [Petitioner] came around the corner and shot Webb four times in the back. Webb died later that night from gunshot wounds.
After shooting Webb, [Petitioner] ran back into an alley where he took off the blue Nautica sweatshirt he was wearing and spoke briefly with his brother, Aaron Carson. [Petitioner] then returned to the corner and leaned over Webb, saying that he was going to be all right. When police arrived, [Petitioner] was instructed to move away. Approximately thirty minutes after the shooting, [Petitioner] and Edwards were back on [Petitioner's] porch. The blue Nautica sweatshirt was on the ground next to [Petitioner's] feet, the victim's pill bottle was in [Petitioner's] pants pocket and the AK47 that Edwards was carrying was leaning against the rear of an adjoining property.

Id. The facts adduced at trial stemmed from the testimony of several eye witness to the shooting, one of whom identified Petitioner as the shooter during Julius Edwards' trial in 1999, but who later testified during Petitioner's 2003 trial that she never actually saw the shooter's face. (R&R at 3). Another witness also identified Petitioner, during Julius Edwards' trial, as being with Mr. Edwards at the shooting, but later said at Petitioner's trial that she was unsure if it was Petitioner. (Id. at 4).

         The procedural history of this matter is set forth in the R&R, and will only be repeated when relevant to address Petitioner's objections. Of note, prior to trial, Petitioner filed a motion to suppress the evidence discovered by the police at the time of his arrest, primarily the victim's pill bottle found in Petitioner's pocket. The trial court conducted a two-day evidentiary hearing, and denied Petitioner's motion to suppress. A bench trial was held, and following his conviction, Petitioner filed a motion for extraordinary relief and argued that the verdict was contrary to the physical evidence, including the time records from his ankle monitor, which included evidence that showed that he was confined at home at the time of the crime due to his house arrest. The trial court also conducted a hearing on this issue and, on January 11, 2005, denied Petitioner's motion and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Id. Petitioner appealed his conviction and sentence. On May 7, 2007, the conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Superior Court. On December 5, 2007, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied review.

         On November 3, 2008, Petitioner filed a counseled PCRA petition. The PCRA Court conducted an evidentiary hearing, and on March 15, 2013, Petitioner's PCRA petition was denied. Petitioner appealed seeking review of, inter alia, his speedy trial and sufficiency of the evidence claims. On August 27, 2014, the Superior Court affirmed the PCRA Court's decision, and on February 19, 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied review. Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, timely filed this habeas petition on June 10, 2015.


         Where objections to an R&R are filed, the court must conduct a de novo review of the contested portions of the R&R, see Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(C)), provided the objections are both timely and specific. Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). In conducting its de novo review, a court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the factual findings or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1). Although the review is de novo, the statute permits the court to rely on the recommendations of the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7.

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) amended the standards for reviewing state court judgments raised in federal habeas corpus petitions filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 195 (3d Cir. 2000). AEDPA increased the deference federal courts must give to the factual findings and legal determinations of the state courts. Id. at 196. Thus, in accordance with § 2254(d), a habeas corpus petition may only be granted if the state court's adjudication of the claim: “(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         In order to seek federal habeas relief, however, a petitioner must first exhaust the remedies available in state court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1) (“An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that - (A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State . . .”). To meet this exhaustion requirement, a petitioner must “fairly present his claim in each appropriate state court . . . thereby alerting that court to the federal nature of the claim.” Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004). In order for a claim to be exhausted, “‘[b]oth the legal theory and facts underpinning the federal claim must have been presented to the state courts, and the same method of legal analysis must be available to the state court as will be employed in the federal court.'” Tome v. Stickman, 167 Fed.Appx. 320, 322-23 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting Evans v. Court of Common Pleas, De. County, Pa., 959 F.2d 1227, 1231 (3d Cir. 1992)). A state prisoner must “fairly present” his federal claims to the state courts before seeking federal habeas relief by invoking “one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.” O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999). In Pennsylvania, one complete round includes presenting the federal claim through the Superior Court on direct or collateral review. See Lambert v. Blackwell, 387 F.3d 210, 233-34 (3d Cir. 2004). The habeas petitioner bears the burden of proving exhaustion of all state remedies. Boyd v. Waymart, 579 F.3d 330, 367 (3d Cir. 2009).

         If a state court has refused or would refuse to review a claim based on a state procedural rule that is independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment, the court may deny that claim as procedurally defaulted. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729, 731-32 (1991); Lark v. Sec't Pa. Dept. of Corrections, 645 F.3d 596, 611 (3d Cir. 2011); Johnson v. Pinchak, 392 F.3d 551, 556 (3d Cir. 2004). A federal court may consider the merits of a procedurally defaulted claim only if “the petitioner establishes ‘cause and prejudice' or a ‘fundamental miscarriage of justice' to excuse the default.” Holloway v. Horn, 355 F.3d 707, 715 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750).

         To show “cause, ” the petitioner “must demonstrate some objective factor external to the defense that prevented compliance with the state's procedural requirements.” Id.; see also Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986). Examples of suitable “cause” include a showing that: (1) the factual or legal basis for a claim was not reasonably available; (2) some interference by state officials made compliance with the state procedural rule impracticable; or (3) the procedural default was the result of ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 488. To demonstrate “prejudice, ” a petitioner must show ‘“not merely that the errors at . . . trial created a possibility of prejudice, but that they worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions.'” Murray, 477 U.S. at 494 (quoting United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982)).

         In Coleman, 501 U.S. 722, the United States Supreme Court held that ineffective assistance of state post-conviction counsel cannot satisfy the “cause” requisite for overcoming a procedural default because there is no federal constitutional right to counsel on post-conviction review. Id. at 750-54. However, in Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), the Supreme Court carved out a “narrow” and “limited” exception to the rule in Coleman, and held that where state law requires claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel to be raised for the first time in a collateral proceeding, a federal habeas petitioner may be able to establish “cause” sufficient to overcome a procedural default of a “substantial” claim of trial counsel's ineffectiveness if the collateral appeal counsel was also ineffective. Martinez, 566 U.S. at 7-19.

         In Martinez, the Supreme Court held that counsel's failure on collateral review to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel may constitute “cause” to excuse a procedural default of the trial counsel ineffectiveness claim if: (1) collateral review counsel's failure itself met the standard for ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984); and (2) the underlying ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim is a “substantial one, which is to say that the prisoner must demonstrate that the claim has some merit.” Martinez, 566 U.S. at 14. Noting that the Martinez Court compared this standard to that required to issue certificates of appealability, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit interpreted the requisite inquiry as a “threshold inquiry” that “‘does not ...

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